Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have been making headlines consistently over the past decade, but these areas of tech development have the power to affect more businesses than just tech startups and corporate juggernauts.
Small- to mid-size businesses of seemingly unrelated industries (and the CEOs running them) need to pay close attention to these developments like everyone else, since they have the power to drastically change how your business operates. If you aren’t careful, you could easily fall behind the curve.
One of the most important considerations for your business is how AI could improve workplace safety standards. Using advanced neural networks, AI programs could more accurately evaluate risk, or analyze hazards in a workplace environment. More advanced systems may even be able to recommend new safety standards to avoid or mitigate those risks.
In addition, if intelligent, automated robots can take over the riskiest employee responsibilities, employees could keep themselves safer at a distance. For example, already, robots are starting to take over dangerous careers like mining.
Jobs and Automated Work
The biggest and most obvious factor you’ll need to think about is how automation is going to change the scope of employment. New algorithms and robots are capable of automating work that previously required humans. Even white collar jobs, previously thought to be untouchable by automation, are starting to feel the slow creep of AI, including journalism and pharmaceuticals. Roughly 25 percent of U.S. jobs are currently considered under high threat of automation, and far more jobs than that could be lost over the course of the next decade.
As an employer and business leader, there are several factors to keep in mind here:
- Cost savings. It’s hard to ignore the possibility of saving money by switching to at least some automated systems. If it costs $1,000 a year to maintain a robot and $40,000 a year to employ a human being to do the same job, it would almost be irresponsible from a business standpoint to continue employing the human—especially if the robot is safer and even more productive. Not all forms of automation will present a dilemma this black-and-white, but it’s worth considering now; where do your priorities lie?
- Demand for higher-tech skills. One of the most common arguments for why automation isn’t a “real” threat is that it’s simply another iteration of an industrial revolution. In each revolution, workers are scared of losing their jobs, but instead of being outright replaced by new technology, they simply move to positions that require higher skills, and work alongside the technology. This could also be the case with AI (though there’s a strong case for why this revolution is different). If that’s the case, you’ll either need to train your existing employees or seek new ones to understand and work alongside AI-powered systems.
- Human impact. Of course, it’s also important to think about how your human employees and customers are going to be impacted by the onset of AI and automated tech. You might be able to save money by using an AI-powered system to field requests and concerns, but do your customers prefer to speak to human beings? How are you preparing your human employees to thrive in a business environment where AI is prevalent?
Prediction and Analysis
The world of predictive analytics is one of the most promising areas of development in the field of AI, simply because it could be used for so many different applications. The idea is to process significant volumes of data to form conclusions that a human analyst might miss; for example, you could use this to project consumer demand for a new type of product, or predict how your customers are going to behave in each of several different circumstances. Now is the time to start thinking how you might apply this in your business—and the time to start collecting as much data as possible.
Competitive pressure is going to drive AI-based tech adoption to new heights. As your competitors adopt newer, more powerful systems, they’ll have the ability to overtake you in at least one key competitive area. This is going to put more pressure on you to follow suit, or preferably, surpass them before they can overtake you.
Chances are, whether you realize it or not, AI and machine learning are already having a major impact on how you run your business. We’re on the precipice of an explosion in both sophistication and availability of AI-powered software and devices, so don’t expect this impact to increase linearly.
The sooner you start preparing for an AI-powered revolution in your industry and in your business, the more likely you’ll be able to exploit it—rather than merely letting it happen around you.